‘Fantastic Lab’ recounts battle against typhus, Nazis | Science News

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‘Fantastic Lab’ recounts battle against typhus, Nazis

Arthur Allen explores the business of wartime vaccine production

4:00pm, September 21, 2014

The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl
Arthur Allen
W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95

The bacteria that cause typhus rely on the body louse to spread. Because lice thrive wherever people are crammed together under unsanitary conditions, typhus became a threat to armies and refugees alike during World War II. As a result, Nazi Germany “whipped itself into a typhus terror,” writes science journalist Allen.

That fear sets the stage for Allen’s book, which tells the intertwining stories of two scientists who fought on separate fronts to develop typhus vaccines and thwart the Nazis.

Before World War II, Polish biologist Rudolf Weigl had used lice to grow typhus bacteria, which are difficult to cultivate in vitro, and developed the first effective vaccine using the parasites’ blood-bloated guts. After

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